Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DisneyWorld Travel Tips

Disneyworld is much more complicated than Disneyland, so I will break it down into different sections - This will be a continuously updated post!

Best sites
allears - GREAT site - even has all the menus for the restaurants so you can pre-plan!

Touringplans.com - if you get allears newsletters, they often have a discount code in there. These are a great way to get an idea on how to tour the park, what days to visit which park, and helps you plan the best time to go based on crowds - have used them every trip and love it! Great for planning. They have great tips for how to tour, so I will not be posting my own (right now at least) except hit Fantasyland FIRST - get fastpasses for peter pan and get in line for Dumbo first thing in the morning. Also get to the park when they first open to get the shortest lines and you can get through many rides during those first few hours they are open before it gets busy! Also use fastpasses - you can use them anytime after they become good (don't have to use in that time frame, just anytime after the first time listed) and get anther one as soon as it is available (see the bottom of your current fastpass). 

Also, take advantage of Rider Swap (like getting a fastpass for 4 people) if you have kids that can't ride certain rides!

Before you go, watch for sales at the Disneystore.com. You can buy all your souvenirs beforehand because they sell the park merchandise, including Mickey Ears (for both parks). They OFTEN have FREE shipping and then OFTEN have extra $$ or % off coupons available (just google "Disneystore coupon code" and it should bring up current codes) plus get another percentage back shopping through Ebates. Just pack them in your suitcase and bring them out for the kids when you get to the parks! The personalization on the hats are even cheaper online than at the parks (sometimes they even offer it for FREE online!). So no waiting in lines to pay or going through the crowded stores! Plus you avoid sales tax (especially if you live here in Oregon like we do!)

When we head to Disneyworld, we have always booked with Disney (a big departure from our stays at Disneyland). They usually have GREAT deals and I prefer to stay on-site. The BEST deal is when you get FREE dining (we got it this last time and it ROCKED!) - they often have it in the falls (late August and later), but this year they offered it for the rest of the year too (you had to have already booked), just keep an eye out for the specials on their website for their best deals. Mousesavers has a whole section on previous specials for certain times of the year, so you can see what to expect.

I prefer to stay on site for these reasons:
They pick you up from the airport and drive you everywhere on site - no driving for your vacations! and you save lots of money from not having to rent a car!
The theming is fun and the pools are great for the kids
You are immsured in the whole experience
Key to the World cards make it simple to get around and pay for things
The staff go out of their way to make things magical!

We have stayed at the All-Star Music and Pop Century - I don't feel like we need to spend a lot to stay since we spend so much time at the park and little time at the hotels. The kids pick the hotel based on which pools they want to swim in :P I actually preferred the buses at the All-stars. Granted, during the day, you have to share with the other All-Star hotels but during the busy times, you get your own buses, and since they are smaller hotels, you don't have to wait as long during those busy times like at the Pop. We once had to wait 3 buses to get to the Magic Kingdom at the Pop, but always got on the first bus at the Music. I liked the Theming at the Pop better. The pools were great at both. The food court was a bit better at the Pop, plus they had an icee machine for the refillable mugs. We would stay at either again, but I think I slightly, but only slightly, preferred the quiet of the Music and the buses. For the ost part, I would just go with what theming you like best - you'll enjoy it no matter what!

If you don't get your tickets from disney - try undercover tourist. We got our Universal Orlando tickets from them because they had the best price. Also, if you know us, we can get a discount through Joseph's work :)

Food: My favorite part

We had the dining plan, so we tried almost all the character meals and have tried many of the quick service

Budget tips:
  • Take your own snacks and water
  • the quick service meals are big - consider splitting them. For example at Cosmic Rays, they have a 1/2 chicken and ribs platter - easily split-able - can always buy an extra side if needed. Check the menus for meals that can be split! FlameTree BBQ in AK has a similar dish.
  • Buy a Double Cheeseburger and ask for an extra bun (they will charge a bit for the bun). Then you can make it into 2 separate burgers. Then places like Cosmic Rays and Pecos Bills have awesome topping bars for the burgers!
  • For character meals - eat there for breakfast or lunch - they are cheaper. My personal favorite is lunch because I don't like a big breakfast and if you eat a BIG lunch (you get TONS of food at these meals), you only need a small dinner because you are full

best snacks in the park:
  • Ham and Cheese Croissants in France are YUMMY and good enough for a light lunch or dinner - Plus any of the goodies in the bakery in France and great!
  • Skool Bread in Norway - LOVE THIS!!
  • Caramels in Germany
  • Cinnamon Rolls at the Main Street Bakery - they are HUGE! and a GREAT price - easily shared they are so big and yummy!
  • Dole Whips in Frontierland - a must do!
  • Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches at the Main Street Bakery - again these are HUGE - cannot finish one myself and they are so good - they make them fresh for you!

Our Favorite Character Meals: Remember you can book 180 (+10 days if you are staying onsite) days in advance. Some book up that far in advance - plan ahead if you want to do one!
  • Cinderella's Royal Table - this was our kids favorite (even our son's because he got a sword!). You get to eat in Cinderella's castle! The kids get wishing stars, wands or swords. They have some fun activities. They meet the Princesses. Photos are included in the dinner price. The food is actually pretty good! It is EXPENSIVE - but worth the cost, in my opinion (We had the dining plan, so it was included). Try for breakfast or lunch to get by cheaper. It is a SMALL restaurant compared to others in the parks, and VERY popular, so it is hard to get a reservation, so plan early for this one and you won't be disappointed! We saw Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Belle, and Ariel.
  • Chef Mickey's was our other favorite. I would recommend this one, if it is the only one you can do - it is GREAT! Lots of fun and good food! We REALLY enjoyed this one! You see the Fab 5- Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, and Pluto without waiting in any lines. This will be a must do for us from now on. It is a Buffet (a good one) and the great thing was they had a baby seat on wheels to take through the buffet with you - loved it!

Other Character Meals we've done:
  • Akerhus Princess Meal - this is a GREAT alternative if you can't get into Cinderella's. The food was pretty good. You get a picture with your meal too. We saw Aurora, Ariel, Jasmine, Snow White and Belle. Princess Parafe was fun :) this was a mix of buffet and family style
  • Garden Grill - Food is REALLY good here. the restaurant spin around the "living on the land" ride. You see Chip, Dale, Mickey, and Pluto - served family style
  • Donald's Safari Breakfast - fun meal. Kids get to dance around with musical instruments and the characters - food is good and you get to see Daisy, who is a hard character to find! It is a buffet and we saw Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Daisy
  • O'hana - Sabrina and I didn't get to go to this because we were sick (I am still sad about it), but Joseph and Jonathan had a great time. It was family style and Joseph said it was good :) They got to see Mickey, Lilo, Stitch, and Pluto. He said there as a dancing part here too
  • Crystal Palace - I can't comment too much on the food because I still wasn't feeling great, but what I did have was good. Loved the varied dessert bar. A must do if you have a Pooh, Tigger, Piglet (very hard to find - first time we have seen in all our visits) and Eeyore

We also ate at Boma at the AK lodge - this was a FANTASTIC buffet - it was REALLY good and would recommend it to anyone!

Best Quick Service -
Flame Tree BBQ - yummy!
Cosmic Ray's - they have a big menu and and awesome topping bar!
Epcot -
Tangierine Cafe in Morocco - LOVE the Shwarma!! La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico is good too. Also don't miss the pastries in Norway and France!
Haven't found a great one here, but the kids loved Pizza Planet this last time

Is the dining plan worth it?
Hard call. I must say I LOVED having it. No worrying about money and making meals (wish I could have it here at home). You get tons of food - tip: you can often get something like a danish, croissant, or a muffin as your dessert and have it for breakfast the next morning. I thought is was the BEST deal getting it for free - I can't be beat! and I LOVED getting to do all those character meals - it was so much fun!
Would I pay for it?
I am not sure if I would. I am really good about going on a budget, so I am sure I could get by cheaper (and have when we didn't have the plan!). You get way more food than you can eat - we had lots of snack credits (and some others, despite my meticulous planning, but getting sick threw it off :P) which we got some stuff to bring home with the leftovers. If you are a big eater, want to pre-pay your meals and not worry about the money when you get there, and want to do lots of character meals (it is worth it if you want to do many character meals or table service), then it is worth it. If you are a budget traveler and are willing to do your own breakfast and some sandwiches in your hotel room, you can get by way cheaper. Charcter Meals are expensive and for our family of 4 (well 5, but Oliver didn't count) most of the meals were around $100 or more (Cinderella's was $200), so If we had paid for all our character/table service meals (we had 8 total) it would have been over $900 (closer to $1000). If we had paid for the meal plan, it would have been $800-$900, so a bargain if you want to do all those meals, not to mention the 9 quick service and 9 snacks we EACH got. SO if you want many character and table service meals, then get the plan. If you want to go on a budget and only one or two character meals, you can do it cheaper

We get ours from Disney with our package, but if you don't get a package, then undercover tourist has them at a discount. Joseph's work does it too.

Park Hopper and Water Park Options: These are $50+ per person to add on (for EACH add on - over $100+ per ticket if you want both)
We both of these add-ons for FREE on one of our trips (Free dining promotion was better). I really depends on your trip and your plans, but I don't think it is worth the money (especailly x4, it would have been an extra $200-400 for our family, I would rather have more character meals). We did not get either this last time, and did not miss it. When we had it, we only park hopped once, because unlike Disneyland where the parks are so close, the parks are far apart and take quite awhile to actually "hop" between the parks. We did like the Water Park Option - Typhoon Lagoon is ALOT of fun! We had a great time and we went twice! The kids loved it. Is it $50 per person fun? - that is up to you. The kids didn't miss it this last trip and were happy with the pool at the hotel and it was rather cold for a few days, so it was a good call not to get it on our part. Disney Quest (included in the Water Park Option) was fun, but not worth the price.

Outside the Parks
Don't overlook the mini-golf. The theming is so much fun! We have done both courses and I prefer the theming at Fantasia Gardens, but they are both lots of fun. You get a Free round for one person when you book with Disney. We just let our kids golf because it is expensive ($10+ per person). You get a souviener golf ball when you are finished. You also get 50% off another round at either course on the same day. For us, this is a not to be missed!
Check out the Deluxe Hotels - we went at Christmas and checked out all the trees, and various gingerbread creations at all the hotels. You can see the animals at AK lodge. You can play on the beach at the
Beach Club (a short walk from Epcot International gateway). Ride the monorail.
We had the kids signed up for the Pirate Adventure at the Grand Floridian, but they canceled it due to cold weather (which worked out since we were sick), but it looks like it would be so much fun, that I want to go (but only for 12 and under), so you might check that out for a fun side adventure!
Also Chip and Dale's sing along at Fort Wilderness looks like a lot of fun and its free (except if you want to buy the fixings for Smores!) - we didn't make it on this trip though..
Ride the monorail
Eat a Hot Fudge Sundae at Ghiradelli in DTD - so YUMMY!
Personal Favorite - Pollo Campero in DTD (reminds me of living in El Salvador!)
Rainforest cafe is always fun - coupons often on mousesavers and if you are feeling rich, get a Volcano! the Gift Shop is always great
Planet Hollywood is LOUD and CROWDED. You can barely move in your seat without hitting someone at the table next to you and it is SO LOUD you can't hear yourself think much less hear anyone at your table. I would skip this one....

Anything else you'd like to know or see here? Comment and I will add it and update this post or give an opinion! I will continuously update this post with information from our trips and experiences

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